The Burntface Movement: Futuristic African Rap Music

by Ellias aka 'The Profit'

Burntface is a movement…

Burntface is a movement that speaks to those previously unspoken to. Burntface is not a voice in the darkness; it is what happens when the darkness itself starts to speak. Imagine a Pan-African movement that is more about movement than it is about Africa. It is a Black Power struggle that starts with being human and finds its power in an understated wink to the millions who overstand that people have far more similarities than they do differences. We are an organization that does not seek converts, but only works to preach to a choir that may be afraid to sing because they think no one is listening!

Anyone can be a part of Burntface. Our active membership consists of approximately two dozen musicians, singers, rappers, web designers, filmmakers, activists, school teachers, painters, and photographers, yet our passive sympathizers are estimated in the thousands worldwide.

Although Burntface was originally known to many as an "Abesha" rap group from Atlanta, especially for its original underground classic 'U Abesha?', it can now be better described as a collective. Rap music is just one of many things we do. I like to think of it as a "fight club for pacifists" comprised of members who choose to use art as a tool for social awareness.

Burntface began as an independent experiment in niche marketing while I was pursuing a degree in Marketing from Morehouse College in Atlanta. In its initial form, it was an optimistic attempt to create an Abesha-centered hip-hop album - an otherwise untapped and lucrative market.

Armed with the realization that there are enough of us (Abeshas) who listen to hip-hop and who identify with Black American culture, an album entitled 'Atlanta' was compiled featuring music with English and Ethiopian lyrics. Since its inception, however, Burntface has grown extensively to encompass not only the Abesha community but all members of the African Diaspora as well.

Burntface has produced and distributed two albums and is currently finishing a third. With each consecutive album, Burntface has become less defined yet increasingly influential. The first album found us making the statement "We're Abesha rappers," and by the second album we had evolved to: "We're rappers who are Abesha." The third time around we decided to let y'all figure it out. Initially, we were merely making hip-hop music with Amharic lyrics; now we're making hip-hop in Ethiopian time signature, if you will, and in an Ethiopian format. This is a whole new territory. Burntface today embraces diverse styles, yet they all point towards the same theme - the unity and socio-economic development of Africa and African communities in the Diaspora.

Burntface is a community…

The music is designed to bring together Abeshas and African-Americans who identify with Africa's significance to the greater Black community. Burntface participants collaborate on art and music projects irrespective of their physical location. We recently did a song with a San Diego-based rap group aERmed Mindz. They Fed-Exed the beat to me in Atlanta, I laid my verse on a CD and sent it back the next day. Abby, an Ethiopian singer from Houston, laid her verse over the Internet and then they Fed-Exed the mixed and mastered version back to me in time to make it on the album. Although the original Burntface crew consisted of three musicians, today, 'Burntface Communities' across America are actively contributing to the music project. Shout outs to the Burntface crew in Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Tanzania, and Addis, who helped to make our latest project a success. Our distribution is handled by what most people would call "fans", but they are really extended family.

What has fueled its contagious acceptance?

The misconception is that all this so-called "gangsta" rap talks to the black community, when in reality it is promoted and designed to fuel the fantasies of suburban white America. Burntface has found its success in being unapologetically black-we appeal and directly market to real black people, not two-dimensional stereotypes. We appeal to old school hip-hop fans that are nostalgic for the days when being African was cool. Most mainstream hip-hop today consists of hyper violent cartoon characters like (fill in the blank). The media is flooded with so-called "gangsta" rap. We provide an alternative I like to call "Joe Blow Rap". We talk to the regular guy or gal who deals with real life situations, i.e. love, anger, racism, friendship, pain, frustrations, and having fun. Like the vast majority of people, we want a better world. We don't tell anyone how to live their life because most of us are still trying to get our s__t together. We just provide an alternative perspective that young people feel they can connect to. We are positive without being pretentious.

Burntface is revolutionary marketing.

Burntface is designed to circumvent current advertising rules made by the music industry. A strategic partnership with initially helped to spread the news about the first Burntface album released at the San Jose Soccer Tournament in 2000. Within months of Burntface's album release, word had spread throughout the African Diaspora. Wherever there were Ethiopians, someone knew of Burntface. When we started getting E-mails from Switzerland, Germany, and Hong Kong (yes, there are Ethiopians in Hong Kong…surprised me, too), I knew we were on to something. One day a fan of the group went to Ethiopia with a copy of the album and the CD managed to make its way onto a radio station in Addis Ababa. The rest is history. Today Burntface uses original artwork as a method of promotion and advertisement. The Burntface "logo" is the continent of Africa pointing in the opposite direction of what most people in the West are used to. In college I learned that our "common" understanding of the Earth places Europe on top, but the ancient Egyptians called the source of the Nile (Ethiopia) the Upper Nile. This got me to thinking about why we accept that a sphere (the Earth) floating in infinite space has a top and a bottom even though elementary geometry tells us otherwise. The Nu Africa is a passive-aggressive subversion to institutionalized Europeanism that stifles the growth of African people. (Turn a map "upside down" and Europe seems less significant).

Ultimately, Burntface aims to make Africa accessible to people who see it as an abstract concept or those who just miss the "hagar bet". We believe that Africans throughout the world are in the same boat economically. Our economic future as African people depends on us promoting and doing business with each other, not only because it is socially responsible but also because it is lucrative. They don't call me The Profit for nothing.

Burntface is Futuristic African Rap Music (F.A.R.M) featuring vocals by: Surafel, Jae Ellis, B-Price, STAHHR the Femcee, Hilena, Walta, aERmed Mindz, Abby, Hershy, Sever, The Profit, Tony Cavasin on Guitar, and Jorga Mesfin on Sax, flute and kalimba.

Futuristic African Rap Music is the name of Burntface's latest effort. This album aims to spread awareness regarding our role in alleviating famine, curbing the effects of HIV/AIDS, and promoting sustainable living initiatives in African nations. This album is dedicated to Surafel Assaminew, one of the original members of Burntface who fell victim to police brutality on September 16th, 2003.

Surafel was one of those people who really believed in Africa. He, more than any other person I know, believed that one day Africa would have peace. He was a person that not only thought about making the world a better place, but honestly believed he was going to contribute to this change. He had a strong belief in his ability to influence the next generation of Africans (on both sides of the Atlantic) to have pride in their history and to have compassion for humanity. Surafel had hope for the future. is a one-stop portal for all things related to the Black experience. It was created as a place for Africa-oriented people to network and learn from each other. It is a place to experience artwork, both musical and visual, created by Burntface. Anyone is welcome to join the Burntface Community. The only requirement is that you not take yourself too seriously, love life, and genuinely believe you can make a change.

Ellias (a.k.a. The Profit) resides in Los Angeles, California.

To get involved and support a grassroot program in Ethiopia visit and to learn more about the online Abesha diaspora visit

(The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Tadias Magazine).

More links on Ethiopian-Israelis:

  • Burntface
  • Tesfa